OPINION: Diana's legacy lost in the mire

Peter Stanford, a writer and broadcaster. He chaired the trustees of the national disability charity Aspire and now sits on various trustee boards

I tried in the mid-1990s to write a book about Princess Diana - not, I should stress, in the Paul Burrell vein. The idea was that as chairman of one of her charities, I would chart the 15 years in which the Princess had reinvented the royal role of patronage in the third sector.

There would be pictures, text, and not a word, I assured her private secretary, Patrick Jephson, of controversy. I remember him nodding approvingly.

A few years later he was to publish his own warts-and-all memoir, thereby breaking the last remaining taboo on senior royal courtiers telling tales, and so setting the scene for the current circus surrounding Paul Burrell.

At first the Princess indicated she was behind my project, but it was eventually overtaken by her decision to withdraw from all but a handful of charities following her divorce.

Today as bodyguards, ex-lovers and butlers queue up to outdo each other with volumes full of sensational and tawdry revelations about Diana, I still mourn my innocent book. For what has been lost in this bout of publishing necrophilia is any memory of Diana that many in our sector would recognise.

She was, after all, a force for good, not perhaps in the miracle-worker mould that she is sometimes cast in footnotes to the kiss-and-tell memoirs, but as someone who saw her work with us as more than a job or an official duty.

She gave me the impression that it was, for her, akin to a vocation.

To echo my own theme of a couple of weeks ago when I wrote about the story of Diana Lamplugh, this other Diana also took her pain - from her childhood and marriage - and made it into something good that benefited many.

Recently I received a call from a journalist called Ros Coward who told me she was writing a book on the legacy of the Princess's charity work.

Just that, she emphasised. So the original idea, it seems, has not ultimately been lost. When Ros's book appears, it will probably not dominate the news for days on end, but I for one will hurry out and buy my copy.

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